Book Review: Thoughts On Building Strong Towns: Volume III

Thoughts On Building Strong Towns:  Volume III, by Charles L. Marohn, Jr, et al

I had deeply mixed feelings in reading this book, as my thoughts in general on the Strong Towns movement are deeply mixed [1].  On the one hand, I agree that current models of development are unsustainable and that cities are putting themselves into bankruptcy and potential ruin through policies that regard gigantic dispersed subdivisions and gigantic condos that skew land values, prevent gradual infill development, and that require a large amount of services that cannot hope to be repaid through tax receipts.  On the other hand, I view the authors’ view of ideal cities with unmitigated horror.  I view the prospect of being forced to be intimate through walking and public transportation (which I have some experience in, see below) [2] with dangerous and unsafe people to be deeply unpleasant and want no part of being crammed into induced intimacy with urbanites.  In short, reading this book left me with the deeply unpleasant sensation of agreeing that the present model of building towns and suburbs is unreasonable and cannot be continued indefinitely, but with no desire whatsoever to have anything to do with living in the strong towns the author(s) of this book advocate for.

This book consists of 31 blog entries that were written during 2016 regarding why so many cities are failing at present and what can be done to improve them.  The authors deal with some towns I am very familiar with, living just outside of Portland, where real estate values and rental prices are increasing at present and have become unaffordable in the entire metro area, extending well outside of the city itself, and being from Central Florida where the massive sprawl of the West Coast of Florida is well familiar to me.  My familiarity with the examples the author used, though, did not make me amenable to the author’s discussion, although there were some thoughts (like the desirability of planting shade trees to make a drive more pleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists) that I could agree with.  By and large the book reads like a lot of whining from leftist radicals who think everyone should be a hipster like themselves who enjoys living in crowded cities that are hostile to the automobile and the freedom it provides to people like myself, even if the traffic is often terrible.  The more I read this book, the more I was irritated by the authors’ altar call for monetary and political support from the reader, even if there were some things I think could and should be done, like encouraging the replacement of single-family homes with duplexes and triplexes and the like and avoiding the gigantism of massive apartment complexes, sprawling subdivisions, and wasteful public transit systems.

But overall, I found the most unpleasant aspect of this book to be the cultural aspect.  There are really two parts of this.  After World War II, an implicit social contract was made by which people were given the opportunity to escape the inner city (leaving it to the poor or the hipster) in order to enjoy the dream of having space of their own.  Unfortunately, this space has proven to be an economic bad deal for many municipalities, but the fact that suburbs have seen such growth means that until and unless people feel safe in the presence of their fellows on buses and trains, which is not true at present, and until and unless people are able to find others around whom they feel neighborly, the ideals of the authors for close communities of politically diverse people are a pipe dream.  I want no part, for example, in being forced to be around those whose behavior makes me less safe, and I suspect that the fast majority of Americans feel the same way, and have voted with their dollars and their residences accordingly.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: Thoughts On Building Strong Towns: Volume III

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    That reminds me of an article I recently read, which touches on similar issues:

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Building Suburbia | Edge Induced Cohesion

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